The Peloponnese, a large and beautiful peninsula connected to the mainland of Greece by a narrow isthmus at Corinth, draws fewer American travelers than the Aegean islands. But now, with the opening of Amanzo’e last September and the growing cachet of nearby Porto Heli, this looks set to change.
Two hours by car southwest of the Athens airport, Porto Heli is a pretty yachting town that increasingly resembles a Greek version of Saint-Tropez. Long popular with shipping magnates, including members of the Niarchos family, the region has recently attracted a growing number of the wellborn and the well-heeled, who love its unspoiled coastline and easy access to stylish islands such as Spetses and Hydra. This trend is sure to continue, since the new Aman hotel is the centerpiece of a real estate project being developed by London Stock Exchange-listed Dolphin Capital Investors. This will include private villas, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, a Nikki Beach hotel and a Chedi property in Porto Heli itself.
With a stunning hilltop location overlooking olive groves and a cobalt-blue bay backed by craggy mountains, Amanzo’e, a hotel complex of 38 pavilions with private plunge pools, is already one of the best hotels in Greece. (It spins circles around its nearest competitor in the Peloponnese, Starwood Luxury Collection’s The Romanos.) The property was designed by American architect Ed Tuttle, who has long enjoyed an association with the Aman group. A destination resort, it comes with spectacular facilities that include a spa with eight treatment cabins warmed by woodburning fireplaces (the property is open year-round), a yoga studio, a magnificent library, an art gallery, a gorgeous infinity pool and a full-service Beach Club.
Amanzo’e guests have the option of a 20-minute helicopter ride from the Athens airport, but seeing no reason to spend the $1,200 for two, we drove instead. Alas, the environs of Porto Heli are rather confusing, so we contrived to get lost. Finally, we telephoned the hotel and an employee was dispatched to lead us to the property.
This frustrating episode was quickly forgotten, however, when we entered our Deluxe Pool Pavilion. A large lounge came with an oak-paneled cathedral ceiling, silk-upholstered chairs and sofas, and brushed aluminum light boxes that glowed through sheets of translucent marble. Separated from the lounge by sliding wooden doors, the bedroom provided an exceptionally comfortable bed made up in Italian linens. A sunken marble-faced bath was equipped with a huge shower, as well as a tub that was bookended by separate dressing areas. (Since the tub was at the same level as the outdoor patio, it afforded lovely views over the surrounding countryside.) Overall, these light and spacious lodgings were aesthetically flawless and superbly well-appointed, right down to screens on the French doors that allowed us to turn off the air-conditioning to enjoy the herb- and lavender-scented night air.
By the time we’d taken a dip in our long (40-foot), narrow plunge pool, we’d taken quite a shine to Amanzo’e. However, a couple of vexing incidents shortly revealed that the resort still has teething problems. The alabaster box intended for bath salts was empty, so Mrs. Harper rang housekeeping to have it replenished. Nothing happened, so 40 minutes later, she called again and was told that the hotel didn’t have any. Nearly an hour afterward, a staff member showed up unexpectedly with bath salts that he’d been sent into town to buy — a nice gesture, but not quite what one expects from a $1,500-a-night hotel. Then, the golf buggy we ordered to take us to dinner failed to appear. Fortunately, when we finally made it to the restaurant, our Spanish-born waitress was charming and efficient, and our meal by chef Rick Gonzalez, a New Yorker, was excellent. A delicious tomato risotto was followed by a pickled beet salad with goat’s milk yogurt, greens and walnuts; shrimp on orzo pasta; and grilled sea bass with capers and slivered zucchini in smoked paprika dressing.
We spent the next day at Amanzo’e’s private Beach Club, five minutes’ drive from the main resort by Mercedes SUV shuttle. There, two freshwater pools lined with green tiles run parallel to the Mediterranean. The beach itself is pebbly, but the turquoise water is limpid and refreshing. An array of water sports is offered, plus excursions aboard the hotel’s magnificent speedboats — a Wally//One and a Pershing 62. On a sunny day, we enjoyed an excellent alfresco lunch of assorted mezzes, griddled haloumi (Cypriot cheese) sandwiches with arugula, and grilled shrimp on mixed greens.
The longer I studied the design of Amanzo’e, the more I became convinced that Tuttle had come within a hair’s breadth of overdoing it: The same bronze figurines he used in sconces and doorknobs at the Park Hyatt in Paris show up here in chandeliers, looking rather out of place in a rural setting; in the main hotel building, there are far too many molded concrete columns; and other references to ancient Greek architecture, such as miniature pediments, teeter on the brink of pastiche. Minor service flaws continued throughout our stay — our minibar was not refilled; an afternoon siesta was needlessly interrupted by a phone call from the front desk to inquire if our passports could be returned; and nightly turndown was perfunctory — but these glitches will doubtless be remedied shortly. Overall, this is a spectacular property that we greatly enjoyed, and one that sets a new standard for the region. I have long considered the unspoiled Peloponnese to be the most beautiful part of Greece; now it has a sophisticated resort worthy of its scenic and cultural splendor.
LIKE: The glorious views of the sea, the surrounding olive groves and the island of Spetses from a tranquil hilltop setting; the elegant minimalism of the exceptionally well-furnished and comfortable pavilions; the outstanding private Beach Club.
DISLIKE: Uneven and unprofessional service.
GOOD TO KNOW: Depending on traffic, it’s a two-and-a-half- to three-hour drive to the hotel from the Athens airport; the rural setting necessitates a rental car during your stay.
AMANZO'E RATING 94 POOL PAVILION (VALLEY VIEW), $1,465; DELUXE POOL PAVILION (SEA VIEW), $1,860. AGIOS PANTELEIMONAS, KRANIDI, ARGOLIDA. TEL. (30) 275-4772-888.